Other Voices: Distribution center metrics – Are we looking at the right things?

Just because maintenance processes and procedures are in place, it doesn't mean they are relevant or providing any value.

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Editor’s Note: The following column by Harry Kohal, vice president of business development for Eagle Technology, is part of Modern’s Other Voices column. The series features ideas, opinions and insights from end-users, analysts, systems integrators and OEMs. Click here to learn about submitting a column for consideration.


One of the traps we fall into in our day to day lives is doing the same things over and over. Stopping at the same coffee shop, driving the same way to work, running the same reports and using the same inspection forms we have used for years. We don’t have time in our day to examine why we are doing what we do, or is it yielding the results we are really looking for in today’s environment, yet we continue because that’s what we do.

When is the last time you looked at the reports you are doing every day and asked yourself, why are we doing this, or is this still relevant? In the changing landscape of distribution center maintenance and metrics, it is time to take a fresh look at what we are doing, and what we measure.

Some of the items distribution centers look at are things like time to receive, stock items, inventory turn rates, operational downtime, and types of maintenance. While these are important, it is ever more imperative to look deeper.

Many times if operations have maintenance reporting to them directly, the data gets clouded. In some cases, maintenance technicians actually become substitutes for staff members who are missing or not hired.

Downtime can be misclassified when operations are in control of the maintenance staff. Yes, there was a downtime incident, but has maintenance been given proper training, time and tools to really maintain the equipment to prevent downtime, or are they too busy hanging posters, moving racks and other tasks which don’t allow them to schedule and complete preventive maintenance (PM)?

Is the organization tracking and documenting all maintenance activities, or is it fire-fighting? Do the inspection forms really have statements which identify the reason and the expected result of an inspection? Equipment like dock-locks and fire extinguishers require inspections that are more than a yes/no answer on a sheet. We came across a customer’s inspection sheet related to sprinkler heads and the sheet was a check yes or no. Yes or no, what? The real questions were 1) Is there at least 18 inches of clearance under the head, and 2) is there any visible corrosion on the head?  We do the same type of questioning with our metrics without examining them.

Why are there breakdowns of equipment? Why is there operational downtime? What types of maintenance are being done, and when is it being done? Why is downtime as long as it is? Do we have the knowledge on the staff, the resources at the right time, the correct parts in stock, and are the parts in 5S shape?

Just as one would want to know what caused a flat tire on your car, someone needs to take the time to examine metrics. How many PM’s should be done? How many were done? Are we PMing too frequently or not frequently enough? Are we in a constant state of fire-fighting? These measurements and answers can only come from a professional automated maintenance team. That means having processes and procedures in place to gather data related to efficiency and safety information, and tests and documentation showing readiness.

Regardless of who maintenance reports to, there has to be a strong awareness that their job is critical in meeting all the objectives of serving the customer, and a clear statement of responsibilities has to be in place and enforced to help determine the measurements of success for the distribution center.

Just measuring how fast I get my frozen food off a truck and into the freezer is a poor measurement if I am not also measuring the temperature and uptime of the freezer itself.

We fall into a habit that may have been taught by a previous generation or team. Everyone should take it upon themselves to periodically make sure the metric by which we are measuring and managing are yielding the data we need to know as the business changes.

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